RESIDENTS will lose the chance to block ‘fracking’ under their homes, under new laws, a Southampton MP has warned.
The Queen’s Speech contained a ‘Freedom to Frack’ Bill - changing trespass laws to allow companies to unlock shale gas reserves under privately owned land, even if the owners object.
Energy companies are demanding the switch before they invest hundreds of millions of pounds in assessing whether large-scale exploitation is economically feasible.
As previously reported, Hampshire is a shale gas hot spot, with eight drilling licences for possible fracking already issued to gas companies at sites across South Hampshire.
And David Cameron is impatient for progress - confident that opposition to fracking will fall away when the first wells are up and running, hopefully within a year.
But Alan Whitehead, the Southampton Test MP, said the new law would “very substantially erode” someone’s ability to object to a fracking proposal under their home.
And he ridiculed the comparison with utility companies which, ministers have argued, already enjoy similar powers of access.
Dr Whitehead, a strong opponent of fracking, said: “Utility companies don’t blow rocks up and jet water underground. They do something sensible - giving power and water to homes.
“What’s being proposed is trying to create the conditions for the same sort of development that has led to scarred landscapes in parts of North America.
“And the public’s ability to do anything to stop this happening will be very substantially eroded.”
But a second Hampshire sceptic of the new technology – Meon Valley Conservative MP George Hollingbery – backed the proposed change.
Mr Hollingbery said he remained concerned about the reliability of well casings and the disposal of waste water and would continue to ask those questions.
But he said: “If fracking pipes have to be moved side wards to extract gas then it seems reasonable and practicable to me that there is legislation that allows it.
“However, I believe this so-called 'freedom to frack' is a side issue to the safety of the water supply.”
In the Commons, Mr Cameron insisted it was wrong that fracking would go ahead against people’s will, telling MPs: “That’s simply not the case.”
The eight Hampshire licences include locations in north Southampton, north and west of Winchester, east of Fareham and in the New Forest.
Communities have been offered “compensation” of £100,000 per exploration well and one per cent of the profits - worth several million pounds, say ministers.
However, it is unlikely that all the sites would be fracked – even if drilling went ahead - because many have the potential to generate conventional gas instead.